Paul Weller is at a crossroads in his musical career. His solo discography boasts11 studio albums, equaling the number of studio albums of the two previous groups he founded, The Jam (six) and The Style Council (five). It’s also 20 years since he released his self-titled debut album. May marks 35 year since The Jam first played CBGB’s in Manhattan.
Weller played three shows in New York (his entire U.S. tour) in May. On May 17th he played an invite only, intimate show at the John Varvatos store on the Bowery, coincidentally the same site as the former CBGBs. He also performed two nights at the Best Buy Theater.
At the Saturday Best Buy show, May 19th, Weller essentially gave three separate concerts and played for two and a half hours. He played his new solo album Sonik Kicks almost straight through the first hour. Few artists would take such a risk, but the adoring crowd seemed to be fine with the unusual presentation.
Weller and his group took a ten-minute break and then played a relaxed acoustic set featuring four acoustic guitarists. Through the opening Sonik Kicks set and the acoustic set, the additional support of a string section worked particularly well.
Without taking a break, after the acoustic set, Weller and his group plugged back in and played a long, riveting electric rock set. The music veered between Dave Mason-era Traffic (also evident during the Sonik Kicks portion), and Beatles- and Small Faces-inspired melodic, yet forceful Brit-pop and punkish rock. Weller cautiously reeled off guitar god licks frequently near the end of the show - a side of his talent he is often reluctant to display. Like the music on Sonik Kicks, Weller rarely showed the soul side of his music during the concert.
The entire show was dominated by Weller’s solo material, with songs such as “Stanley Road,” “22 Dreams,” “Amongst Butterflies,” “The Changingman,” “From the Floorboards Up,” “All I Wanna Do (Is Be With You)” and “Wake Up the Nation,” being particular highlights. Weller did not play any Style Council songs, although “Town Called Malice” from his Jam days thrilled the crowd.
Weller shows no signs of slowing down. His uncompromising approach to his career and the high level of musicianship and songwriting he continues to maintain place him at the vanguard of British musical artists to emerge after the 1960s.